How Can Technology Improve Criminal Justice Reform?
Technology offers a vast potential, including in criminal justice reform. Let's discuss how innovative technologies impact the industry.

As technology has evolved, it has introduced several opportunities for businesses and organizations to grow and expand. There are also opportunities in the criminal justice space, but how many of these remain unexplored?

prison reform and digital innovation

The Importance of Digital Literacy

Some private companies recognize these opportunities and put their money where their mouth is — such as Google, which launched Grow with Google Career Readiness for Reentry. The program is focused on job readiness and digital skills training for formerly incarcerated individuals. Google announced over $8 million in investments in organizations helping “justice-impacted” individuals. Google has a goal of helping 100,000 formerly incarcerated people build career skills by 2025.

Another concern is how many formerly incarcerated individuals struggle with the knowledge gap and lack of digital skills, as access to digital development behind bars is limited.

For example, one study that identifies tech challenges of women transitioning from incarceration struggles with basic digital skills, such as knowing how to protect privacy or online information.

Additional studies show that digital literacy can reduce recidivism in the long term, as well as digital technology reducing incarceration rates through alternatives such as house arrest and remote parole monitoring. For example, GPS and radio frequency-enabled technology provide an alternative to physical incarceration (reducing incarceration costs and easing the reentry of nonviolent offenders).

Supporting Prisoner Reentry

Rand Corporation has produced a report that explores leveraging technology to support prisoner reentry, as well as the challenges that correctional agencies face — and how to overcome them.

Consider how the use of electronic devices by incarcerated individuals has the potential to support reentry objectives.

  • Better prepare for future job opportunities 
  • Leverage communication tools to deliver reentry-related services remotely 
  • VR and other simulation technology can be an effective tool to support reentry 
  • Used in correctional education 
  • Facilitate support for incarcerated individuals and their families

How Can Technology Assist With Reentry?

Did you know that implementing a digital application process for incarcerated individuals can save an officer approximately 91 hours a week?

Setting aside the fact that the prison system seldom offers the necessary resources for proper rehabilitation, many incarcerated individuals struggle to adjust to life outside of prison after release. Could technology better facilitate a smooth transition? And how?

Rand Corporation researched the use of electronic devices to support reentry objectives, and they produced a few key findings.

  • Technology can better prepare individuals for future job opportunities 
  • Technology provides the opportunity to leverage communication tools to deliver reentry-related services remotely 
  • Virtual reality can be effective in supporting reentry 
  • Technology plays a key role in correctional education 
  • Technology can facilitate support for incarcerated individuals and the families awaiting their return 
  • Telepresence technology can facilitate warm hand-offs to community-based partners 

Of course, correctional agencies face several challenges in implementing technology for these purposes, and the recommendations provided by the study only work in theory — until they are executed practically.

Reform Think Tank further explores the potential of innovation across the prison estate. They discuss how secure technology can be used by prisoners to improve outcomes in custody, plan for resettlement, and enable continuous support for the community.

These plans involve all parties in the criminal justice system and rely on trusting secure systems with those behind bars. Training and induction processes are necessary, and with the right guidance, the potential for technology in reentry is significant.

Evaluation of Digital Technology in Prisons

Technology and data offer unique insights that help to refine policy, guide decisions, and implement meaningful change. Unfortunately, the criminal justice system is perforated by data gaps.

Justice Lab describes lack of data as “areas where a lack of published data makes it hard to answer questions of significant public interest” and includes areas of police, courts, and prison. Data gaps are a global concern, but improvement is possible. Shifting attention to the use of digital technology in prison, research reveals an opportunity to leverage the digital era for positive change.

The Ministry of Justice released a report on evaluating digital technology in prison to reveal various aims. While the study was conducted in the United Kingdom, the approach could be applied to a wider global community with the proper allocation of resources and security.

  • Provide opportunities for incarcerated individuals to build skills and assist in their rehabilitation 
  • Reduce prison violence by improving relationships between incarcerated individuals and staff 
  • Improve relationships between incarcerated individuals and people outside of prison 
  • Increase staff job satisfaction

The study goes in-depth, discussing the role of technology on themes of functionality and access, uptake and use of technology, interactions and relationships, staff and prisoner wellbeing, and staff workload.

I was particularly drawn to the insights on prisoner and staff wellbeing, where the introduction of digital technology improved the psychological well-being of prisoners, increased feelings of personal responsibility, and less friction.

Of course, this report only scratches the surface of how technology can benefit prisoner rehabilitation, staff well-being, and the general improvement of criminal justice results.

It’s possible that these digital tools can fill gaps where limited staff and financial resources cannot. These digital tools may also contribute to more data, which further serves the public interest and improves criminal justice efforts.

digital technology and recividism thoughts

Enhancing Rehabilitation Outcomes Through Innovative Technology

Innovative technologies provide an opportunity for change, including criminal justice reform. Recently, the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute hosted a session on enhancing rehabilitation outcomes for prisoners through the adoption of innovative technologies.

The summit discussed how innovative technology offers a promising solution to rehabilitation by providing access to rehabilitation programs and flexible, effective prison-based interventions. This discussion is in conjunction with the attention on the importance of digital literacy skills and the critical role they play after release.

The Prisons Strategy White Paper also pushes the agenda for a modern, innovative approach to jails that intends to reform prisoners while protecting the public — a bold goal that can be achieved through applied thinking and allocation of resources.

Some of these measures include:

  • Using body scanners to achieve a zero-tolerance approach to drugs 
  • Assessing offenders for drug and alcohol addiction and putting together a comprehensive addiction plan 
  • Improved education, with a focus on digital literacy and training offenders in vocational skills such as construction and coding 
  • Introducing a job-matching service that pairs offenders with vacancies in the community to reduce unemployment post-release 
  • Resettlement passports offer incarcerated individuals all that they need to start looking for work after release 
  • Speedier punishment schemes with penalties linked directly to their offense (while supporting rehabilitation)

We’re building the prisons to incarcerate dangerous and prolific offenders. We’re deploying the tech to stop the flow of drugs, weapons, and phones into prisons. And we’re re-orienting the regime to get offenders off drugs for good and into work – to cut crime and keep the public safe.
- UK Deputy Prime Minister, Justice Secretary, and Lord Chancellor Dominic Raab

In November 2021, the UK government allocated an extra £550 million to reduce reoffending and £3.75 billion to create 20,000 extra prison places across the estate.

What are your thoughts on this approach?